The Maryland football team struggled to move the ball at times in 2016.
When the 2017 season gets underway against Texas on Saturday, the Terrapins will be facing a unit that struggled quite a bit last season.
The Longhorns finished eighth in the Big 12 in terms of total defense. They surrendered 31.5 points-per-game and 378 total points (third-most in the conference).
Texas’ pass defense was the source of a good amount of the team’s struggles throughout the campaign. In 12 games, the Longhorns gave up 258.5 yards through the air and opposing quarterbacks completed 60.7 percent of their passes against them.
In addition, Texas yielded 7.7 yards-per-pass, which was the second-highest in the Big 12.
The Longhorns do return some of their key playmakers and will look to right the ship under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Let’s take a look at who some of those players are.
One thing that Texas did do well in 2016 was get after the quarterback.
The Longhorns registered 41 sacks on the season, which was second in the Big 12 and only trailed TCU. One of the biggest reasons for that was the play of defensive tackle Poona Ford.
Ford was arguably the most disruptive force on the defensive line for Texas. He accumulated 54 tackles (5.5 for loss), four quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble last season.
This is a defensive lineman that gets a lot of push up the middle. That may be a tad surprising considering that Ford is just 5’11/280 lbs., but his perseverance makes up for the gifts that he doesn’t have physically.
Ford registered multiple tackles in every game a season ago. He’s a disruptive force that can push the opposition backwards and often ends up right near the ball carrier when the play is over.
Ford is the type of defensive lineman that needs to be accounted for on every play. Maryland’s guards are certainly going to have their hands full.
Anthony Wheeler is to Texas as Jermaine Carter Jr. is to Maryland.
Wheeler occupies the middle linebacker position for Texas and was one of the team’s most productive defensive players in 2016. The Dallas native racked up a team-high 65 tackles (37 solo), two pass break ups, and two forced fumbles.
The former Under Armour All-American started just seven games a season ago and still managed to lead the team in tackles.
Wheeler is a very instinctive player that is rarely caught out of position. He stays at home when he needs to, but still has the necessary speed to run down a ball carrier when he needs to.
Wheeler has the pedigree to turn into one of the top linebackers in the Big 12 and maybe even the country. Most scouting services had Wheeler ranked as a top five player at the linebacker position during his high school days.
He had two games last season in which he accumulated double-digit tackles. Wheeler is a player that can hold his own in pass coverage while also not allowing opposing ball carriers to get to that second level of the field.
Wheeler is a player that Maryland’s running backs could encounter quite a bit throughout the afternoon on Saturday.
P.J. Locke III
P.J. Locke may be the most gifted defensive back on Texas’ roster.
The Longhorns nickel cornerback is a very physical player that has a very diverse skillset. In 2016, Locke registered 33 tackles (25 solo), six pass break ups, two interceptions, a sack, and a quarterback hurry.
Locke’s six defended passes were second on the team. He oftentimes is able to close on the ball and separate opposing wideouts from the football due to his physicality.
He’s also very smart and is a strong tackler that can anticipate the play as it’s developing. Locke plays against the run pretty well, which is one of the big reasons why he has a good amount of solo tackles for a defensive back.
Locke doesn’t have the best hands in the world otherwise his interception total would be much higher. However, he gets his mitts on the football more often than not, which needs to quite a few incomplete passes for the opposing team.
It’s going to be interesting to see who Locke lines up against on Saturday. Locke trying to guard Maryland star wideout D.J. Moore would certianly be an entertaining matchup to see if it comes to fruition.